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Brown: Blago should get out of prison early — but just a little

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (center) walks with attorneys as he arrives at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Littleton, Colo., on March 15, 2012, to begin his 14-year sentence for corruption. | Associated Press

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Now that the U.S. Supreme Court thankfully has squelched former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s notion that he is entitled to a Get Out of Jail Now card, it’s a good time to reopen the question of how long he really ought to be there.I’ve argued from the start that Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence is too long.

Not way too long, mind you, but a little too long, these matters falling into the eye-of-the-beholder realm.

It’s not as if my bleeding heart is actually bleeding for Blagojevich, whose conviction was well-deserved, but I do feel a pang of sympathy.

It was four years ago this month that Blagojevich reported to a federal prison in Littleton, Colo., to begin serving his sentence.

OPINION

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He won’t be a free man again until May 23, 2024. That comes out to less than 14 years because federal convicts serve 85 percent of their sentence.

Let’s remember it’s already been seven years since Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.

Heck, it’s already been six years since he marked a new personal low by getting fired from Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

With each day, he fades from memory. His treasured dye job faded long ago.

At my age, which is just slightly older than the 59-year-old Blagojevich, I’ve noticed the pages on the calendar start turning more quickly. But May of 2024 still seems a long ways off.

I’m fairly certain that my personal desire to get revenge on our wayward ex-governor will have run its course well before then, perhaps by the summer of 2022?

An opinion last summer from the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals tossing out some of the Blagojevich convictions opens the door for U.S. District Judge James Zagel to revisit his sentencing decision.

The court didn’t say Blagojevich’s sentence was too harsh. In fact, quite the opposite.

The court found Zagel would have been within his legal rights to give Blagojevich a longer sentence under the federal guidelines that applied in the case.

The opinion from Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook also held that the evidence against Blagojevich was “overwhelming” and that his effort on appeal to overturn all of his convictions was “frivolous.” (That explains why the Supreme Court didn’t even bother to take Blagojevich’s case.)

But the Seventh Circuit did open the door for Blagojevich by throwing out five of the 18 convictions against him.

These were charges that relied to some extent on the assertion by prosecutors that Blagojevich broke the law when he offered to appoint Valerie Jarrett to take Barack Obama’s Senate seat in exchange for the President-elect naming him to a spot in his Cabinet.

The court decided that’s just “logrolling,” an acceptable form of trading favors in politics as long as one official act is traded for another.

But the court said that Blagojevich’s other efforts to receive a private gain from the Senate appointment were out of bounds, and that the jury could have convicted him for the same counts on that evidence.

Before there is any resentencing hearing, the U.S. Attorney’s office will first have to make a decision on whether it wants to retry Blagojevich on the counts that were thrown out.

I trust the answer to that will be no, with nothing obvious to be gained from going through it all again.

We could have a nice off-the-record chat over beers about where I think Blagojevich ranks in the pantheon of Illinois political crooks over the past 35 years, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t make the top five.

Of course, many of those who I think belong at the top of the list have never been charged with anything, which you can either chalk up to my being wrong or them being a lot smarter than Blagojevich.

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